It's been a little over a decade since Natasha Romanoff entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Iron Man 2, but with the release of Black Widow into cinemas and streaming on Disney+ Premier Access on July 9, she will have finally received the solo movie fans of the character have been clamouring for all this time.
But what caused Marvel to finally come around well after the character is already dead, with Black Widow having met her end (barring any Multiverse-related shenanigans) in Avengers: Endgame? Well, as director Cate Shortland told The LA Times, there were two things that happened that made making this film possible in the decade since the character made her debut.
"Black Panther created space for both filmmakers and for diverse voices," said Shortland. "And I also think it gave the studio confidence that we would come and see those movies. I think the expectation was that we wanted to watch white men and if they weren’t white men, we wouldn’t come."
She went on to add, "And after the #MeToo movement, the other thing that happened was we could say what we wanted to say; we could make jokes about women’s trauma and the control of women’s bodies. I think the expectation was that we were going to make a dark film, and so we wanted to say 'No, we’re not going to make a dark film because we’re not victims. These girls are going to kick ass.'"
When Natasha first joined the Avengers as their first official female hero, the lineup was a little testosterone-heavy, but the MCU and superhero movies in general, have come a long way since. Evangeline Lily's Hope Pym became the first female hero to be included in a film's title in Ant-Man and the Wasp, while Brie Larson's Captain Marvel received the honor of getting her own solo movie, the sequel of which is already in production. On Disney+, Scarlet Witch kicked off the beginnings of Marvel TV with WandaVision, which will continue with the premieres of Ms. Marvel and Hawkeye later this year.
However, Black Widow can still claim a pretty big milestone, marking yet another sign of progress. It is the first film in the MCU to have a lone female director. (Captain Marvel was co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.) Following in Shortland's footsteps are Academy Award-winner Chloé Zhao with The Eternals, and Nia DaCosta (Candyman) with The Marvels.
Black Widow fleshes out the backstory teased in previous Avengers films as it introduces viewers to Natasha's found family of fellow spies. Making up this little unit are Alexei (Stranger Things' David Harbour) AKA the Red Guardian, Russia's version of Captain America, and former Red Room graduates and assassins/"widows" themselves, Melina and Yelena (Constantine's Rachel Weisz and Midsommar's Florence Pugh), with whom Natasha has a maternal and a sibling-like relationship, respectively.
The movie, which takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, will see Natasha go against this second family, only to once again team up as they attempt to take down the program that stole most of their lives and turned them into trained killers instead.
Black Widow will crash into theaters and onto Disney+ Premiere Access on July 9. Here's everything you need to know ahead of time.